Tag Archives: fantasy

Shifty Characters

It’s time for some discussing and some list making (because have you met me? I always make lists). I’m participating in the 2017 edition of the fabulous Discussion Challenge, which is a fantastic place to find more bookish discussions. The participants always have something interesting to say!

Today, I thought I’d say a word or two about my love for shifty characters: thieves, assassins, pirates, and so on.

It’s weird that I enjoy reading about these people so much when in real life, my worst “crime” was getting fined for jaywalking in high school (seriously, I’ve never even gotten a parking ticket, I’m distressingly honest and law-abiding. Okay, so there might have been some underage drinking and pot smoking but I’m a responsible adult now. *cough*). I can’t even say that I know any criminals – at any rate, I would do my best to avoid real-life hustlers and con (wo)men, let alone assassins, because they prey on innocent people and kill and engage in really bad behavior.

So why is it that I am so drawn to any book that has a morally questionable protagonist? I’m not even talking about villains here. It’s the main characters with shifty lifestyles that I love. The redeemable bad guys.

Probably it’s because I hate characters who are too good and pure to be true. I mean, I consider myself to be a fairly honest, good person, but I still get jealous, petty, and downright nasty (only when I’m hungry, though, promise).

So let’s consider the loveable bad guys and get some recommendations! Note that some of them fall into multiple categories (I mean, as if stealing wasn’t enough. Let’s add murder to the mix, right?).

Have you read any of these? Did you like the shifty characters?

What do you think makes them so great?

And do you have any recommendations for me?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published in January 2017 by Del Rey.

Links: Goodreads. Amazon.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Del Rey for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: historical fantasy.

My rating:

‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

It’s been three weeks since my last post and I kind of wanted to do the whole Adele routine by giving you all sorts of reasons for my absence, but I’ll do that in the February recap post. Today, I just want to talk to you about The Bear and the Nightingale.

The Bear and the Nightingale is Arden’s debut and it’s a rich, powerful story. It’s heavily based on Russian folklore and I liked it a lot. To be honest, the only two things that bothered me were the relatively slow beginning (it takes the story a while to get going, but once it does, it really pulls you in) and the fact that it is not a standalone, which is what I thought it was when I started reading it.

Now, I’ve been known to start series left and right and I have about 40 going right at this moment (it’s a problem, I’m working on it), but Goodreads didn’t list it as a series when I started it and it wasn’t until after I’d finished it and was completely satisfied with the ending that I learned Arden was writing books 2 and 3. And while I loved the setting and would love to read more stories in that same world, I’m not sure how Vasya’s story will continue. Anyway, I’ll let the author surprise me.

But let’s talk about the good stuff instead. As I said, the worldbuilding was great. I’m always up for a fantasy story with a non-Western setting and Russian folklore is somewhat familiar to me (not in the sense that Slovenian folklore is similar but I’ve read a lot of Russian folk and fairy tales and I loved them), so I had a fun time recognizing the creatures and features of the world.

Arden’s writing is also rich and powerful, she paints the scenery with great attention to detail but I didn’t feel it bogged down the narrative, which was great. She’s a master at writing atmosphere, I think The Bear and the Nightingale should really be read in wintertime. It’s the perfect book for when it’s cold outside and you’re somewhere warm.

I liked Vasya, the girl protagonist, a lot. She’s a wild child with one foot firmly in the fairy world, misunderstood by her relatives and restricted by tradition. While she’s a young child, this wild streak is tolerable, but as she becomes a young woman, the society starts boxing her in. Her character development was great and it’s one of the reasons I’ll be continuing with the series – I’m curious to know more about the adult Vasya. I’m hoping she’ll be more proactive about her fate – it was hard for her to do anything drastic while she was a very young child but I sometimes felt she was a pawn on the chessboard of other, bigger forces, pushed around as they saw fit.

But Arden really writes great villains. Her antagonists (and yes, there’s more than one) are well-rounded personalities with motives that are never purely black, so it’s hard to hate them, even when they are absolutely loathsome. I’m not going to go into details and names here because it’s sort of spoilery, but let’s say I enjoyed them very much.

All in all, The Bear and the Nightingale was a very good historical fantasy, so if that’s your cup of tea, go for it. I’m hoping the sequel(s) will do it justice and I’m looking forward to exploring the world some more.

Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? What did you think?

What’s your favourite historical fantasy?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3) by Scott Lynch
Published in 2013 by Del Rey.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (hardback).

Genre: Adult high fantasy.

My rating:

With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

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This is the review for the third part of the series, so it will definitely contain some spoilers for the previous two books. You can read my reviews of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies – and then we’ll chat! :) This isn’t a simple review, either, but a delayed sort of read-along I’m doing with DJ from MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape – we’re calling it The Bastard Read-along. So if you’re reading this as well (either for the first time or re-reading in preparation of the forthcoming publication of The Thorn of Emberlain), leave the link to your review in the comments and I’ll make sure to link it somewhere in this post and in the master post of the read-along as well. If nothing else, be sure to check out DJ’s review – he’s reading the books for the first time so his perspective is different from mine!

Now, I am definitely sure I only read The Republic of Thieves once before – I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d read Red Seas Under Red Skies once or twice, and I’ve now read The Lies of Locke Lamora at least five times (which makes sense since I’m translating it into Slovenian). My memory of this book was therefore much more sketchy than with the previous two books, which isn’t that bad, actually.

The Republic of Thieves brings back an element I missed with Red Seas Under Red Skies: the flashbacks to the time when Gentleman Bastards were still a young gang of thieves, going through a rigorous education. Here, though, we have an actual parallel story line, unlike with Lies of Locke Lamora, where the flashbacks serve mostly to illustrate the characters’ backstory and the setting.

The switching of timelines – the past one where the young Gentleman Bastards depart for a foreign city to put on a stage production of a famous play, The Republic of Thieves, and the present one where Jean and Locke are competing with Sabetha to win the election in Karthain – make for a fast-paced story, much like in the first book. None of the parts dragged like they did with the second book, and I was once again immersed in both stories, cheering on Locke and his crew.

But the tone of this third book is different from the first one. Here, Locke is no longer the cocksure, brilliant thief convinced he’s the smartest of all – he’s lost friends and made mistakes, so while his schemes are still brilliant, his thoughts are tinged with regret and even self-doubt. Jean is grieving but still his loyal self, ready to prove that his friendship with Locke will always stand the test of time.

The most significant addition to the story, however, is Sabetha. I know many fans disliked her – she is proud, distrustful, and even a little traitorous, but I thought she was great. We’ve been listening to Locke pine away for her for two books, and now that she’s finally here, she’s human. Yes, she’s brilliantly educated and beautiful – Locke’s obsession with her has not diminished – but she’s also wary and prickly and careful, worried she’ll make the same mistakes that made her run from the Gentleman Bastards in the first place. I loved her relationship with Jean, the fact that they managed to talk despite the huge obstacle that is Locke Lamora’s ego.

I also need to mention the Bondsmagi – the scary order of magicians we’ve met before in the form of the Falconer who aided the Grey King slaughter half of Camorri criminals in the first book. Here, the Bondsmagi are the silent force that toys with the people of Karthain, steering the election like it’s some sort of a puppet show. I liked the insight we got into their world, I admired (and loathed) Patience and was horrified by what remained of the Falconer.

The hints about the Eldren were also interesting; this ancient, mysterious civilization that left behind magnificent ruins and vanished without a trace. I really, really hope we’ll get to discover more about them in the rest of the series.

And now all there’s left to do is wait for The Thorn of Emberlain to be published. We know the unrest in the Kingdom of the Seven Marrows is reaching boiling point and our favorite thieves will probably try to make the most of it. I hope we’ll get to see more Sabetha as well, but I’ll let Lynch surprise me. This is definitely one of my most anticipated releases and I hope it’ll happen in 2017.

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Have you read The Republic of Thieves? What did you think?

Are you as eager as I am to read The Thorn of Emberlain?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

The Best Books I Read in 2016

The year has come to an end. Finally, most people will say, given that 2016 has been a pretty tough year. But as I said, it has been a good year for me, and these books made it better. Books have the power to do that sometimes. I divided them into categories and linked to my reviews where they’re available – I’m still behind with writing them, oops.

It has been a year of comfort reads and losing myself in fantasy worlds, so the list reflects that, I think. The lists themselves are in random order.

Best of Fantasy

Best of Romance

  • To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne – this one spawned a binge of Layne’s backlist. I haven’t reviewed any others yet but I fell in love with her stories! I especially loved Blurred Lines.
  • How Not To Fall and How Not To Let Go by Emily Foster – maybe the only romance that made me cry? I *loved* them!
  • Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn – I read this one twice and I still think it’s great!
  • Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie – okay so it’s not just a romance but it was laugh-out-loud hilarious.
  • The Year We Fell Down and the entire Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen – sports NA romance at its finest, really.
  • Act Like It by Lucy Parker – very good + bantery.

Best of Other

  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – gorgeous writing and packs a real punch.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – this was fantastic. Not my usual fare but so good!
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – I loved the book so much but the movie just wasn’t that good.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir – one of the few Sci-Fi titles I read this year. I loved it!
  • Saga by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan – I really need to catch up with this one.

 

Which books will you remember most from 2016? 

Was it a good reading year for you?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

The Exiled Queen (Seven Realms #2) by Cinda Williams Chima
Published in 2011 by Voyager.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: YA high fantasy.

My rating:

Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But danger isn’t far behind, and Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. Meanwhile, Princess Raisa

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’ Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells to the safety of Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.

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This is the review for the second book in the Seven Realms series. My review of the first book, The Demon King, is here. Go read it if you’re new to this wonderful series because this review here will contain some spoilers for book one!

People, I have no excuse for waiting as long as I do between reading sequels in a series. Yet I always seem to wait and wait and then I forget half of what was happening in the previous book. So it took me a while to get into The Exiled Queen (this edition also came without a map, so I was a bit confused about the geography, as there’s a lot of travelling at the beginning of the book), but when I did, it was one wild ride.

Raisa is the princess heir of her queendom (How cool is it that there’s a queendom? I’ve tried to translate that into Slovenian and it just doesn’t work! “Queen” is “kraljica” while “king” is “kralj” and “kingdom” is “kraljestvo”, so it’s weird because “kraljica” is a derivative from “kralj”… Anyway, you didn’t come here for a language lesson.) and is currently on the run because the High Wizard tried to marry her off to his son (also a wizard), which is forbidden by law. She’s being escorted to the military school by one amazing Amon, her personal guard – ohh, their story was the best! Raisa is bent on studying hard to become the best possible ruler to her people, which I found admirable. She knows she’s not equipped to rule a nation if she’s seventeen and knows very little about the world. I liked that aspect a lot.

Han is a wizard! Yeah. That happened. So he’s on the way to school to study magic, only he’s indebted to the clans that paid his tuition and he keeps forming alliances (against his will) that stretch him in too many ways. And now a girl he met at home (hint: our lovely royal) is attending the same school, the other wizards hate his guts, and the clans are breathing down his neck. Lots of tension! (Also: excuse me, this review is completely incoherent.)

I’ll always be a sucker for stories that happen at schools for magic. Or any other type of school, really, as long as there are loads of people stuffed into a limited space and emotions run high and there’s kissing involved. *happy sigh* We also meet some students from other kingdoms, which brings some diversity into the story, but I do wish these characters had more prominent roles.

A note on the kissing: I really liked that Raisa kisses more than one boy/young man in the course of this series. I could dislike her because she’s one of those young women boys seem to go crazy about while she insists she’s nothing special, but I liked the matter-of-fact approach Chima has to youthful relationships: of course you’re going to kiss more than one boy before deciding one of them is your true love. In any case, there’s no judgment involved on this, which is refreshing.

I loved the secondary characters in this story, especially Amon and Dancer (Han’s best friend). They are both loyal to the bone and help their friends even when said friends are bent on doing stupid things. The antagonists (especially the Bayar family) are well-written, too. I hope we’ll see more of their stories in the future. The political intrigue is growing more complicated, so I really need to read the third book before I forget everything that happened in this one.

Seven Realms continues to impress and is one of the best YA fantasy series I’ve read in recent years. I can’t wait to see what will happen to Han, Raisa, and their crews in The Gray Wolf Throne!

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Have you read The Exiled Queen yet? What did you think?

Do you prefer to wait until a series is finished before you start reading it?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

A Crop of Mini Reviews

My posting schedule doesn’t allow me to review all the books I’ve read, and I like it that way. Not all books are meant to be talked about at length, so I skip them and only mention those that are either very good, ARCs, or very bad. Sometimes, though, these mini reviews really come in handy. These are all YA and MG reads from November and December.

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Blankets by Craig Thompson
Published in 2003 by Top Shelf Productions.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from my brother (paperback).

Genre: YA contemporary graphic novel.

My rating:

I read Blankets back in high school when my mom and dad gave my brother this copy as a present. It’s a beautiful story of a boy growing up in a highly religious environment, his experiences with faith, first love, friendship, and family. I didn’t remember the story well, so I picked it up when I saw it at my parents’ apartment – my brother didn’t take it with him when he moved out (dun dun dun! This only makes sense if you’ve read the story and maybe not even then, sorry.) It also seems to be largely autobiographical?

I really liked the artwork – it’s all done in black and white, so it’s really powerful. Thompson’s style is beautiful and clean, though he sometimes veers into fantastic shapes and creatures that break up the harsh reality Craig (yeah, the MC’s name is the same as the author’s) has to face every day. If you get a chance, definitely give this one a try, it really packs a punch.

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Paper Towns/Lažna mesta by John Green
Published in 2014 by Mladinska knjiga .

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from my mom (paperback).

Genre: YA contemporary.

My rating:

I did not enjoy this John Green novel. *le gasp*

I read The Fault in Our Stars a couple of years ago, before I started blogging, and really, really liked it (like most everyone I know). Then I read Looking for Alaska and reviewed it here. It was good, I liked it, but I definitely wasn’t as star-struck as I was before.

And now my faith in John Green’s writing is failing, because Paper Towns were a disappointment. I read the Slovenian translation (by Neža Božič), which is actually really good, so it didn’t play a role in my lower rating. I know Green has a really loyal following so if you find it unbearable to hear his books insulted, please exit through the side door. Thanks.

My main problem was with Margo. Without going into spoilers, she’s a spoiled (ha!) little brat and I disliked her immensely. Quentin was cool but the entire story was actually very similar to Looking for Alaska when you think about it! I wanted to slap some sense into all of them but couldn’t, because they’re fictional.

And then there was the pretentiousness. I’m sorry but do you know many 18-year-olds who quote Whitman but are also very cool and hip and generally the most intelligent beings around? I’ve read enough to know when an author did not kill his darlings (and he really should have). Parts of the story were horribly long-winded and really dragged along. Look, I had my fair share of stoned conversations about existential questions when I was that age but nobody ever said those conversations were meant to be written down, let alone read my millions of random people. Ugh.

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The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
by Lion UK.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: MG historical fantasy.

My rating:

The Little White Horse is one of my childhood favorites. I think I must have read it at least five times when I was younger – in Slovenian translation, of course (it is very good). But I wanted to read the original, so I bought myself the English version a couple of years ago and the book has been sitting on my shelf until now. I’m really happy I re-read it! I see it with completely different eyes now but the nostalgia is strong, so I can’t help but love it still.

Of course there are some problematic elements to the story of the orphaned Maria who comes to live at Moonacre Manor. There’s the notion that ladies don’t get angry, or loud, and that women are represented by the Moon while men belong to the Sun; there’s the overwhelming religious element and a number of other details that I could name. But they didn’t bother me in the least when I was little and it’s also wrong to judge the works from the past with today’s criteria.

So I’d still recommend this as a classic work of English children’s literature, and I’ll be reading it to my kids when the time comes, because it’s a pretty fairy tale and I want to share it with them. But if you’re looking for a modern, enlightened fantasy, this most certainly isn’t it.

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Have you read any of these? 

What did you think?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.